PK-12’s new goal: Making every educator ‘as great as they can be’
Consistency, communication the focus of new Learning & Leadership team
Left to right: Middle Level Director Jim Fish, Elementary Director Carrie Stephenson, Elementary Director Cindy Kapeller, Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Steve Cook, Director of High School Education Corey Wise, Elementary Director Danelle Hiatt, Assistant Superintendent of Elementary EducationTed Knight.
CASTLE ROCK – The goal of the new PK-12 department’s leadership team is short and simple: preparing students for their futures, by ensuring they have a great, supported teacher in every classroom.
“How do we make every educator as great as they can be? We know that it starts with leadership,” explained Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Dr. Steve Cook. “We know that it starts with principals. The better we can communicate the vision of the Strategic Plan to the administrators, the better we can support them in developing and supporting teachers in their building, the more successful our kids are going to be,” Cook said.
Ted Knight, the Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education, grew up in Fountain, Colorado.
As an at-risk youth, Knight had a special connection with the teachers and coaches in his life and wanted to give back to his community and do for other students what his mentors had done for him
After attending college he returned home to teach in the Fountain Fort Carson School District. He eventually was recruited into central administration and worked in curriculum and assessment, before moving to the Harrison School District, where he served as a principal of various schools.
Knight came to DCSD as the Chief Academic Officer, Elementary Education.
Knight is married to his high school sweetheart and has two kids, a daughter who attends Castle View High School and a son at Sage Canyon Elementary.
After earning his degree in science education at Kansas State, Dr. Steve Cook, the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education, started his career at a small rural school district in Southwest Kansas with only 200 students, which gave him a great opportunity to teach just about every science course.
During his 13 years in the classroom, in two Kansas school districts, Cook says his focus was making science fun and exciting for his students, but he didn't really think about the art or science of teaching.
"I knew I wanted to make science fun for the kids, so that came really naturally for me, but I had no idea that what I was doing was research-based. If someone would ask me I would say, ‘I don’t know, I can’t explain it. It just works.’"
A master's degree, a doctoral degree, and the opportunity to lead a school that was launching an Expeditionary Learning program, opened up a new window into understanding teaching and leadership, as well as ways he could share with other teachers.
He jumped at the opportunity to come to Douglas County last year to become the principal at Cimarron Middle School, before becoming the Director of Middle School Education, and now the Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education.
This summer, the Douglas County School District Board of Education unanimously approved a new Strategic Plan. The plan, which lays out a vision through 2017, builds upon the work of the previous Strategic plan, now focusing on four priorities: Safety, Choice, System Performance, and World Class Education.
“It is built on the idea that we have to prepare kids for a different age. It is a completely different way of thinking for everyone,” Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education Ted Knight said. “It has to permeate through the entire system. Everyone in the organization has to understand that we need to do things different, because we know that our kids’ needs are changing. They’re going to inherit a different world.”
With more than 80 schools and 4,000 teachers, the “Leadership and Learning” team in the PK-12 department know they’ve got a lot of work left to do.
“The most difficult issue right now, as it is in a lot of large organizations, is getting so many smart, creative people all going in the same direction,” Knight said.
This year Knight, Cook and the members of the Learning and Leadership Team, are focusing on improving consistency and communication throughout the system.
The team has been in schools daily, as well as preparing professional development for principals that will help to further define what each of the Strategic Plan priorities are, how this vision impacts teaching practices and then how that translates in the way both teachers and leaders are evaluated.
It is a bit like baseball. When a player walks up to the plate, they should have a firm understanding of what is expected of them and the rules of the game.
Consistency is key
“Consistency in practice. Consistency in process. Consistency in the tool. The expectations should not change, no matter where they are playing or what uniform they’ve got on,” Cook said.
In the past, from school to school there was some ambiguity in the system regarding expectations. This year, the Learning and Leadership team is working to ensure everyone is on the same page, regardless of what school they are at.
Cook says teachers do not mind high expectations, as long as the evaluation is fair, equitable and measures accurately the way we impact kids.
This takes a fair amount of training and practice for principals, just like it does for umpires in Major League Baseball.
“Calling balls and strikes is a great metaphor for this. There is consistency of practice. Umpires go to school to learn how to call balls and strikes,” Cook said.
While the expectations laid out in the evaluation tools CITE and LEAD are a non-negotiable across the District, there is still a lot of flexibility for schools to choose the learning model that best suits their community.
“One of the things that is really valuable that we do in Douglas County is that we do not mandate how. Every school gets to put their own mark on what we do. There are so many ways to do it well,” Cook said.
The Learning and Leadership team is committed to spending more time in schools, to supporting this differentiated work of teachers. Knight says.
“It’s our job to take the roadblocks out of the way or to mitigate the interferences for them so they can focus on teaching, learning and assessing and making sure that these kids know what they’re expected to learn, in a way with kids that they can enjoy it,” Cook said.
Excitement for the future
“We’ve got a great team,” Knight said. “First and foremost the power of this team is that we are all still practitioners. We all still consider ourselves principals, teachers, educators in every sense” Knight said.
They not only expect the directors to model what they expect of principals in the system, but to look for ways to streamline processes and ensure the focus remains on the student in the classroom.
“We have the ability to make such a difference in the effectiveness and efficiency of principals and teachers,” Knight added. “There is no discussion that will be had without talking about how it is going to impact the kids in that school. That is impactful,” Knight said.